By Liz Fisher of Portland, Oregon. Liz works in alumni relations at Lewis & Clark, and is a recovering sustainability consultant. She and her dog, Dora, live it up in the 97214.
Good friends predicted the début of the new roommate, Chad, would bode well for the future of the household. Mingling among the young professionals, hippies, political types, and strange neighbors, Chad talked about hiking, snowboarding, and the friendly people he'd met since arriving only four days earlier. (Obviously, he knows nothing because good snowboarding doesn't exist in Oregon this year, but that is not the point.) Every cute girl at the party loved Chad's sweet, well behaved black lab. Future plans were made, and some numbers were exchanged.
When the tune "closing time" had played nine times, and only a few close friends remained, Chad began to clean. Trash, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and left-over food were all thrown into one giant plastic trash bag.
At first everyone stared. They were long, hard, agonizing stares that translated into the action of throwing tomatoes at a bad act. Chad didn't notice. Upon entering the room, Alexis' boyfriend approached the situation delicately. "Yo man. We don't do that here," he said with a smile. "We recycle." It was a polite statement that meant to clue him in. He could have been saying "Welcome to the block Buddy, the trash gets picked up on Thursday." But Chad wasn't listening. He dismissed Alexis' boyfriend with a flick of his head.
One of the good friends, one of those who had been staring long and hard, interrupted, "You see... we separate things that can be recycled. I'm from New York. I know. It's strange. It's just what we do." It was assumed that he knew how to recycle. The benefits of recycling seemed clear. Isn't it a topic that is introduced in elementary school? It was fifteen years ago when I was in elementary school in rural Pennsylvania.
Chad looked like he'd mysteriously switched planets. Aliens must have transferred him from Earth to Portlandia where fools were telling him that he hadn't done it right. The drinks from earlier that evening weren't helping his rationale; Chad took the suggestions as a challenge. Despite his obvious frustration, he offered a conciliatory statement. "Yeah, I get it. Recycling. The bums like to pick the cans out the trash. They take the cans for money. It'll get recycled."
One of the cuter girls he had been flirting with said flatly, "No, you don't get it. We separate our cans and bottles so the bums don't have to dig through the trash. Why make it hard on them? Oh, and here in Oregon, we call them street people."